It is said that nobody on their deathbed regrets not spending more time at work, but it seems this may no longer be true. Kate Hilpern investigates the growing trend of people working with a terminal illness and looks at the role of HR.
According to cancer charity MacMillan, more people than ever are working through terminal illnesses, often to within days of their death. "Certainly with cancer, people are living much longer than they used to. In fact, people now live for an average of between four to eight years post diagnosis of 'incurable' cancer," says Hannah Lee, MacMillan's HR business partner. "In some cases, they want to work to help restore a sense of normality; in others, they can't afford not to work."
Research by MacMillan shows that seven out of 10 cancer patient households suffer a loss in income. with an average fall in income of 50%. With 90,000 people of working age diagnosed with cancer every year, this is an issue HR can't ignore. News that the state retirement age is set to increase in the long-term is also significant. It will mean more people work into their old age - when terminal illnesses ranging from heart disease to cancer are most likely to occur.
The role of HR
The workplace is not set up for the very ill, often leaving HR feeling stumped on a number of issues. How long should the person be "allowed" to work? What if they don't want anyone else to know they're ill? What about colleagues who faced with extra work and emotional distress?
While watching an employee become increasingly ill can be hard, employers should first and foremost be mindful of the law. "A terminally ill person is likely to be considered 'disabled' for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and section 6 of the Equality Act 2010," explains Emma Bartlett, partner at law firm Speechly Bircham.
Resources for employers
MacMillan has created a guide